What is a Root Canal?
Inside of a tooth there is a naturally occurring hollow space. It is full of soft tissue, or what is called dental pulp. Just like a lead in the middle of a pencil, this hollow space extends into the root of the tooth and is called a root canal. When infection or decay establishes within the hollow space, or canal, it must be treated. The treatment, or procedure, to repair the problem is also called a root canal. The procedure removes the infected tissue, cleans the space and then fills the chamber with a replacement material.
How Do I Know if I Need a Root Canal Done?
Root canals are treatments to save badly decayed and/or infected teeth.
For many reasons these root canals can become infected or damaged and must be repaired. Signs of root canal infections are:
- Severe toothache pain upon chewing or application of pressure
- Prolonged sensitivity/pain to heat or cold temperatures (after the hot or cold has been removed)
- Discoloration (a darkening) of the tooth
- Swelling and tenderness in the nearby gums
- A persistent or recurring pimple on the gums
If left untreated then the infection can worsen and pockets of decay form, causing further issues and problems. When the tooth’s nerve tissue or soft pulp suffers damage it begins to deteriorate. Bacteria grow in the soft pulp and a pus-filled pocket (called an abscess) forms in the root of the tooth. This creates further problems, such as:
- Swelling that may spread to other areas of the face, neck, or head
- Bone loss around the tip of the root
- Drainage problems, a hole can occur through the side of the tooth with drainage into the gums or through the cheek with drainage into the skin
How is a Root Canal Treated?
Anesthesia is given and then the dentist, or endodontist, proceeds to remove the the infected pulp, taking care to remove all of the infection. The area is then disinfected and filled with a material, called “Gutta-Percha”.
Some patients raise the question of how a tooth can continue to survive and remain healthy without the soft tissue and its blood vessels. The facts are that once the tooth has formed and matured, then it can survive very well, minus the pulp. After a root canal procedure, blood and nourishment continue to be supplied to the tooth from other sources.
While it is true that after a root canal the tooth can lose some resiliency and sensation, it is also true that an untreated tooth will be the source of ongoing pain and can eventually rot away.
Who Will Do My Root Canal Procedure? Will I Require Further Work?
One’s dentist often does the root canal, however it is very common for a dentist to refer this procedure to a specialist–called an endodontist. (Endodontic is a very simple word that literally means “inside the tooth”) After many years of performing root canal procedures we found that the best arrangement for our patients is for the actual procedure to be done by a endodontist, while we focus on the diagnosis and the restoration required after the root canal.
It is quite normal for your dentist to do restoration work on the tooth after a root canal. This is not due to any damage caused by the procedure. The facts are that these types of infections normally stem from teeth that have large fillings, extensive decay or experienced a injury of sorts. Once the infected tissue has been removed and the chamber filled, then the prior damage needs to be addressed as well. Often a cap or crown is require to provide the support and protection to ensure proper functionality and preserve its health.
Is a Root Canal My Only Option?
The best option is to not need a root canal in the first place. The conditions that lead up to this procedure are most often preventable. By observing good oral hygiene habits (brushing twice a day and flossing once a day), insisting upon quality dental work and by reducing the risk of a sports related injury (wear a mouth guard) it is possible to avoid ever needing a root canal.
That being said, root canals are an excellent option for decayed, infected teeth. They allow you to keep your natural teeth, and so this is a preferred treatment.
However, sometimes the condition of your teeth or underlying bone structure will mean that your dentist will recommend other, such as:
- A dental implant
- The tooth is extracted and replaced with a bridge
- A removable partial denture
These alternatives can be more costly than root canals and require treatments that are normally more extensive. Your first step is a complete examination and evaluation, so call us today for further information and help.